Between her mother’s values as a social worker and the importance her family placed on diversity and inclusivity, Shayleen Morris knew from a young age that her destiny was to work in a position of service, helping underprivileged communities.
So it wasn’t hard to see why, upon graduation from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — where she graduated magna cum laude and earned dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology — she decided to enroll in law school. However, Morris’ law degree was cut short when she decided the school she selected and her looming career path weren’t aligned with her goals or values.
“I picked the wrong school, to be honest,” Morris said, pointing to its lack of diversity among the student population and the city’s tense political climate. “I thought I was going to be a public defender or prosecutor. But after talking to some folks in those roles, I realized that job would keep me up at night. And they weren’t doing what I wanted. They were just following the law and not really changing anything.”
Going in a different direction
With a renewed focus on becoming more of an advocate and affecting change in legislation, Morris left after her first year in law school, determined to find a better fit for her graduate education. And she found it in Adler University’s accelerated Master of Public Policy program, with a focus on human rights advocacy.
“It just fit really well, the mission and values statements, and the lens of community service and social justice,” Morris said. “I entered Adler very much broken and doubting myself, after what I call my ‘dark year’ in law school. So I started a journey to build back my confidence.”
Morris’ time at Adler’s Chicago Campus became about more than simply earning a higher education; it was also a time for self-discovery.
“I can pinpoint my year at Adler as the year I found out what self-care was,” she said. “I figured out what I needed, as a human, as a woman, and as a woman of color. This was due in part to my program but also my cohort. I made some really good friendships with peers in my classes, and those folks were really in tune with self-care. We became this little family.”
Beginning her career
Shortly before graduation, Morris accepted a job as a performance analyst with the City of Chicago Office of the Inspector General for Public Safety.
“I was hired because of the degree I was receiving and the knowledge I was bringing to the table,” she said, explaining that a lot of her work at Adler was focused on policing,
Today, Morris works as the policy director for the City of Seattle’s Community Police Commission. As part of her role, she reviews police department policies and procedures, collaborating with the community heavily impacted by policing, collecting and analyzing data, publishing reports that include recommendations based on findings, and presenting to politicians and community stakeholders.
“At Adler, the way you are educated is through that community-centered social justice lens,” Morris said. “And that, I think, is the most important part of the education because that’s not something that’s intuitive to everyone — knowing what inclusiveness is, knowing the social stratification of hierarchies, and how to implement that in your every day. And Adler does a really good job of looking at inclusion, equality, and justice. It’s something you have to live and breathe, and you do that in every class and in everything you do at Adler. In every conversation, that was always the foundation in which we built our education, our advocacy, our arguments, and papers.”
She also consults on the side, currently working with the City of Portland, as a contractor for the compliance officer/community liaison. Whether Morris will stay in policing for decades to come remains to be seen.
“I always want to ensure that I’m in a place where I’m honoring myself, honoring my heritage, honoring my parents and where they came from, and honoring the people who live around me,” she mused. “And that I’m always in a place of service. I’m always up for change, I think it’s the spice of life. I think there are other ways that I can work in policing to get different perspectives to really round out my level of subject matter expertise and the way that I give to this field and add to the voices.”